The Blade filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the city of Toledo claiming the city's police department is violating the Ohio Public Records Act for refusing to provide access to a "gang boundaries map" that police use to monitor increasing gang activities and a record number of shootings this year.
According to the complaint filed in the 6th District Court of Appeals, the newspaper requested the opportunity to view and copy what police officers refer to as a "gang boundaries map" or a "gang territories map," which is maintained by the city's police department in the Safety Building downtown and in police computers.
The city responded to the request saying that the map would not be made available because it is "actively being used" and labeled it a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record," the complaint said.
"The city's legal position seems to us indefensible, either the result of incompetent legal advice or pigheaded defiance of Ohio's open-records law and the public's right to know," said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.
The Blade claims in its lawsuit that the gang map is a public record. In particular, the newspaper maintains that the map is not a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record" and therefore is not exempt from the Public Records Act.
"Even if some portions of the map or some of the information contained therein does or would constitute information otherwise exempt from public disclosure under the Act, [the city] has refused [The Blade's] request for inspection and copying without making any effort to redact those portions of the map or of the information contained therein that [the city] claims to be exempt from disclosure," the complaint said.
The complaint, filed by Toledo attorney Fritz Byers, states that the newspaper became aware of the map when it was discussed with a reporter "on at least three different occasions." The reporter was told by police officers that the map was "hanging on a wall in the Safety Building and is also maintained electronically in the department's computer system," the lawsuit stated.
The complaint was filed a day after the newspaper was informed by Adam Loukx, Toledo law director, that the city would not make the map available.
Numerous calls to Mayor Mike Bell's spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, were not returned on Wednesday. Mr. Loukx also did not return a call seeking comment. When questioned in person about any comment on the lawsuit, Mr. Loukx responded that he could not speak to a representative "of the other side" and refused further comment.
A reporter waited to speak with Mayor Bell or his spokesman for more than an hour on the 22nd floor of One Government Center, but the office closed without any information offered about their availability or desire to make a comment.
Police Chief Derrick Diggs also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Council President Joe McNamara and councilmen Rob Ludeman, George Sarantou, Lindsay Webb, D. Michael Collins, Mike Craig, Paula Hicks-Hudson, and Tom Waniewski refused to comment on the lawsuit citing pending legislation.
Councilmen Adam Martinez, Steven Steel, and Tyrone Riley could not be reached for comment.
The only one who spoke about the matter was Councilman Phil Copeland, who sided with the city.
Mr. Copeland said the police department must know what it's doing and has good reason for not disclosing the information.
"To me, it would be counterproductive to give that information out until they're ready," Mr. Copeland said. "I would have to go along with them; they know better, they're the law enforcement so they know better what they want to do than me. I don't think I would give it out if I wasn't ready to give it out yet."
The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus, or a court order, directing the city to immediately make the map available for inspection and to provide copies of the map to The Blade. The complaint further asks that the court award the newspaper compensatory damages of $100 for each day that the record is being withheld, as well as attorney's fees.
To support its claim, The Blade cited three reasons, including that "the map is or appears to be a compilation based on ongoing monitoring of gang activity," and that it "relates to and is the product of general law enforcement initiative rather than being a part of a specific investigation into specific acts of criminal conduct."
The complaint further stated that the map should not be exempt from the Public Records Act because "there is no probability, much less the statutorily required 'high probability' that release of the map for inspection and copying would result in the disclosure of the identity of any person, whether an uncharged suspect or a confidential witness or informant" nor would release of the map "endanger the life of any law enforcement personnel, crime victim, witness, or confidential informant."
Mr. Byers also wrote in the complaint that the court should order the city to release the gang map because of the "substantial public interest" surrounding gang activity in Toledo.
"The geographic distributions of such 'gang activity' within the city is a matter of great and immediate public concern due to the recent and highly publicized activities of [the city's] officers and employees in re-allocating police resources within the city," the suit states. "These activities, which include controversial plans for the closure of at least one district police station, have been made at least in part purportedly on the basis of [the city's] assessment of the relative volumes of criminal activity, including 'gang activity' within different areas of the city."
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